It’s rare for a video game series to end on its own terms, let alone to end well. IntiCreates approached the original Mega Man Zero intending for it to be a one-time affair, telling a fairly open and shut story in the process, but the title’s success led to Capcom commissioning the studio to develop a sequel. Heading into Zero 2’s development, however, it was decided that the sequel would be developed as a bridge towards Zero 3, which was now expected to serve as the end of the sub-series. Playing Zero 2 and Zero 3 back to back, it’s quite clear to see the games were developed as something of a pair.
Not only does Zero 3 logically improve upon Zero 2’s many improvements, but virtually every story beat established by the latter also has a payoff in the former. By the time Z3’s credits roll, it’s been made plenty clear that the Zero saga has come to an end. Or at least it was supposed to. History is cyclical, and Capcom wasn’t satisfied with just three entries in the Zero sub-series. To their credit, IntiCreates’ initial pitch for the fourth Zero game was to develop an interquel. Titled Rockman Zero 1.5, said game would be set during the year-long gap between Z1 and Z2, filling in a natural narrative blindspot while keeping Z3’s finality intact.
Where the Zero series always strived to evolve naturally from title to title, a fourth entry would always be disconnected from the first three games by sheer virtue of said games telling a full story. Zero 1.5 would have specifically weaponized this disconnect, existing during the story instead of as part of the story. How do you end a story that’s already ended? You don’t, you take a step back. Of course, this wasn’t the direction IntiCreates went in. Capcom’s desire for a traditional Zero 4 would cause IntiCreates to reconsider their approach, scrapping any plans for a Zero 1.5.
Naturally, there’s some disconnect. Mega Man Zero 4’s story feels too removed from the rest of the sub-series, mainly stemming from the fact Zero 3 resolved everything that needed resolving. The sole exception was Dr. Weil, whose survival was less a cliffhanger and more a reflection on forever wars– a concept X often agonized over in his series. Weil’s presence is a reminder of the perpetual nature of conflict, which is why Zero inherits X’s struggle in the first place. Even the Resistance Base and the Guardians are gone, two Zero series staples.
This disconnect extends to the gameplay as well. Zero 4 retains virtually none of Zero 3’s gameplay improvements, rebalancing combo potential, introducing a brand new Cyber Elf system, and fundamentally changing how EX Skills work. Perhaps it’s not unreasonable to say Zero 4 mostly takes steps back in the gameplay department, but it at least does so consciously and with purpose. As Zero 3 already perfected the formula laid by Zero 1 and refined by Zero 2, Zero 4’s choices were to be derivative of Z3, attempt to fix what wasn’t broken, or carve its own path entirely. For better or worse, it chooses the last option, but that does put into perspective why Zero 4 feels so mechanically unique.
In typical Zero fashion, Z4 has its own signature melee weapon to play off the Z Saber, but this is the first time that said weapon hasn’t been a Rod. Not just that, this is the first time the Shield Boomerang doesn’t make a return appearance– having been a signature part of Zero’s kit for three games straight. Now, all Zero has rounding out his Z Saber and Buster Shot is the Z Knuckle, an unarmed weapon which focuses on hand to hand combat and disarming enemies. Omnidirectional, the Z Knuckle not only renders enemies defenseless, Zero can steal their weapons, temporarily replacing his Z Knuckle in the process.
As a result, Zero technically winds up with access to more weapons than ever before. A few weapons Zero can steal from enemies outright share properties with Z1’s Triple Rod. Zero 4 even begins with the Z Knuckle equipped, encouraging players to experiment with their new tool. Most enemies take two hits with the Z Knuckle to kill & disarm, but a quick 2-hit combo makes grabbing enemy weapons fairly easy– as does using the Z Knuckle’s charge attack. There’s always an enemy around the corner to steal a weapon from, but how useful the Z Knuckles ends up being ultimately depends on which enemies are around at any given time.
When it comes down to it, most enemy weapons are junk. Ranged weapons tend to do little damage, melee weapons are too slow & can’t be strung into combos, and the strongest weapons often come with little ammunition. A good chunk of enemies are also strangely resilient to other enemy weapons, making it almost painful to experiment with the Z Knuckle on a first playthrough. Once you’ve got the stage design down, it’s actually quite fun to run through the game exclusively using the Z Knuckle. For as lousy as the enemy weapons are, they add a fun, dynamic edge to the gameplay.
“It doesn’t work for every enemy, but for the ones it does, just finish them off with the Zero Knuckles to grab their weapon.”
The Steel Claw allows audiences to indulge in the Wolverine action-platformer they never knew they wanted, as Zero stabs his claw hands deep into enemies from eight directions. Kerosh’s Tang Rod revisits Z2’s Chain Rod, giving the weapon a massive combat buff in the process. The Gyro Boomerang is an instant Shield Boomerang charged attack with the press of a button. Between the Flame Sword, the Electric Rod, and the Ice Buster, Z4 outright has better elemental options than any of its predecessors. But Zero 4 is a disconnected game by design, and while all these weapons make excellent gameplay additions on paper, the fact Zero can only ever use one at a time neuters their combat depth entirely.
That said, hand to hand combat is still a cool novelty, and the Z Knuckle is arguably more useful in its base form. While actively killing enemies will result in actively stealing their weapons, Zero can toss enemy weapons aside rather quickly. Players can even use this to their advantage, immediately throwing stolen weapons into enemies. With enough practice, it’s possible to build up a rhythm where Zero’s stealing and throwing weapons with as much ease as cutting down enemies mid dash-jump.
The Z Knuckle also has practical stage use, capable of tearing through obstacles like vines or removing enemy shields in order to create openings. Zero can now also grip onto platforms like in the PSX Mega Man X games, adding some late series variety to the level design. On top of that, the Z Knuckle makes for a great boss killer. While it lacks the range of both the Z Saber and the Buster Shot, there’s something profoundly satisfying about landing a close-range hit into a boss’ chest. The Z Knuckle can even be used to counter enemy attacks. Zero can rip Sub Core’s wires out, nerfing its strongest attack; Noble Mandrago’s seeds can be plucked out of the ground before they hatch, and a fairly powerful sword can be stolen during the final battle for some easy damage.
Unfortunately, we run into a similar issue as with enemy weapons: little combat depth. As situationally useful as the Z Knuckle is, it does not pair off the Z Saber well, nor does it have any EX Skills to its name. This keeps the weapon’s focus on disarming enemies, but at the expense of a combat loop that gradually gained more depth with each game. EX Skills don’t do the Z Knuckle any favors either, now easier to unlock than ever. Rather than being tied to rank, EX Skills are now unlocked by completing the hardest version of a stage (something as simple as picking the right option during the level select.) As a result, EX Skills are now more naturally integrated into the core design, but this might not necessarily be a good thing.
EX Skills have been trivializing combat since Zero 2, but the fact they were tied to rank ensured that players had to prove themselves before earning a new Skill. An EX Skill is a badge of honor between Z2 & Z3, and any player good enough to unlock an EX Skill has arguably earned the right to some combat leeway. More importantly, players who couldn’t unlock EX Skills had other tools at their disposal– Element Chips, Cyber Elves, weapon leveling, Forms, and equipment to name a few. Zero 4 features variations of all these fixtures but now rolled into other mechanics. This poses the biggest problem with elements.
Although Chips return, Element Chips do not. This time around, elements are exclusively tied to EX Skills. This incentivizes frequent use of EX Skills, but at the expense of players’ preference play styles or weapons. Where Element Chips could once be paired with your preferred weapon, they’re now locked to the Buster Shot & Z Saber, and in incredibly specific ways. With the Z Saber, Zero’s Thunder attack has to be a dash stab, his Fire attack has to be an uppercut, and his Ice attack has to be a ground level air slash. The Buster Shot works similarly with the Fire shot erupting on enemies, the Ice shot firing out like a javelin, and the Thunder shot requiring its own unique charge which can make using it more effort than it’s worth.
Disappointingly, boss hit stun has been rebalanced yet again, this time removing Z3’s generosity so (most) bosses can no longer be torn through as easily. In turn, while players will likely use their EX Skills far more often than in Z2 or Z3, chances are they won’t use them as creatively. More importantly, elements being tied to EX Skills ends up nulling them against certain bosses outright. Want to use the uppercut against Pegasolta Eclair? A boss constantly flying above Zero? Tough luck, he’s strong against flame so the attack does no damage. Combo potential is still present– with the downwards thrust making an all around great opener or closer– but chaining Z3‘s lengthy combo chains is virtually impossible.
To its credit, this grand rebalancing does result in a more challenging set of bosses than Z3’s. Better? Not necessarily, but the uptick in difficulty is appreciated after Z3 lowered it a fair bit. That said, most bosses end up feeling more like Mega Man X’s Mavericks than they do Mega Man Zero’s Mythos Reploids. With most bosses resilient to longer combos, there ends up needing to be a traditional back and forth– though this largely stems from the Buster Shot consistently being the best tool to tackle the game with.
Zero 4 may try to emphasize the Z Knuckle, but this is the Buster Shot’s best showing across the sub-series. It may very well be an oversight on IntiCreates’ part, but the Buster Shot can handle just about every single threat Z4 throws at the player. All three elemental Buster skills allow players to keep a safe distance from bosses while doing a considerable amount of damage. This is kind of a given, though. With the Shield Boomerang removed, the Buster Shot is the only long range weapon in the game. Its charged shot can take out most enemies with ease, while clearing the path ahead. Granted, the Buster Shot has always been useful, but Zero 4 highlights its qualities best.
With level design that favors gunplay and a level select screen that outright features 8 selectable bosses at once, Zero 4 seems to take more cues from Mega Man X than it does its own sub-series. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, as it does result in Z4 capitalizing on one of X’s best qualities: dynamic stages. In certain X games, the order in which you clear stages can affect later levels. The classic example being: clear Chill Penguin’s stage first and Flame Mammoth’s will be frozen over. Mega Man Zero does something similar, albeit tied to difficulty.
“How ironic that the very technology meant to protect nature is destroying it.”
The newly introduced Weather system allows Zero to change the weather of a stage before he begins a mission. Easy Weather gives Zero an advantage at the expense of awarding no points towards total rank, while Hard Weather puts Zero at a disadvantage at the expense of being the only way to unlock EX Skills. The differences in weather are not superficial and generally stick true to their naming convention, but this is a decent enough compromise as far as difficulty is concerned. Plus, since the boss rush at the end uses the arenas present under Hard Weather, anyone who plays through Easy will still need to prove themselves before the finale.
Weather variants also make for some nice replay value. Under Hard Weather, the Hibernation Chamber is covered in snow. Not only does this obscure enemies and exits, ice spikes spawn in the second half of the stage. Under Easy Weather, however, all the spikes and snow banks have melted. Similarly, the Celestial Gardens is caught in a windy downpour when played with Hard Weather, whereas Easy Weather results in a sunny backdrop that isn’t actively pushing Zero. Weather is a simple mechanic that doesn’t have a lot of depth to it, but being able to turn a stage gimmick on or off does have its value. As does the emphasis places on Zero 4’s presentation.
IntiCreates goes 4 for 4 as far as the series’ art direction is concerned. Zero 4 sees yet another visual and audio improvement. The weather system paves the way for far more dynamic lighting, and what instances there are of rain look phenomenal. The sound design pairs wonderfully with the weather conveyed on screen, and the soundtrack is as strong as ever. There’s less emphasis on cutscenes than before, but Zero 4’s story isn’t as epic in scope as Zero 3’s, so it’s forgivable.
What might not be so forgivable is the change to Cyber Elves. Zero 3 got it just right with Satellite Elves. By allowing Zero to equip two Elves at the same time, players could make creative use of their Elves without completely overpowering Zero. Two at a time also forced experimentation, and catered itself to what player’s valued most. Zero 4 attempts to do this with Croire, a fully customizable Cyber Elf. Rather than feeding Cyber Elves individually, Zero now levels up one single Cyber Elf with E-Crystals over the course of the game. Defeating a Mythos Reploid increases the Cyber Elf’s max level, capping out at 8, and Zero can have one ability equipped from three different categories at any given time: Nurse, Animal, and Hacker.
That said, level really only refers to how many abilities Zero can have equipped at once– and it’s only restrictive if players care about rank. In a game where rank is back to doing nothing but giving bosses desperation moves, Zero is free to abuse Croire as much as he wants. Though, there’s not really much to abuse. While an interesting idea in theory, Croire is just a worse version of the Satellite Elf system. Equipping three elves at once is nice, but having to tiptoe around Elf levels to maintain rank is annoying– especially since it immediately defeats the purpose of being able to equip three abilities at once.
Croire unlocks new abilities every time she levels up, but each ability corresponds to the level it was unlocked at. Hacker’s third ability increases all of Zero’s damage by 1 point, so it’s a level 3 ability. If Croire is just level 3, this is the only skill Zero will be able to equip without penalizing his rank. Worse yet, unlike Satellite Elves which allows players to equip two Elves of the same category, Zero 4 locks players to one Nurse, Animal, or Hacker skill at a time. This helps balance Nurse, but Animal & Hacker’s usability suffers considerably. Not being able to pair Zero’s rising slash with his downward wave feels almost criminal.
Equipment is thrown out the door right alongside the Satellite Elf system, replaced by crafting. Enemies now drop parts which can be taken to Cerveau and synthesized together to make Head, Body, and Foot Chips. The Part system allows there to be more equipment variety than ever before, but this is a double edged sword. Zero 3’s approach was very traditional. Aside from a few secret Chips, players would unlock most Chips naturally over the course of the game. Zero 4 outright requires you to make Chips if you want to make the most out of Zero’s mobility and skill set. While drop rates are generous, unlucky players might find themselves a few parts short of the right Chip.
Worse yet, making chips requires far too much trial and effort to be worth doing naturally. While Zero can uncover recipes over the course of the game, players are more or less left to fend for themselves. This is a mess that results in anyone trying to play fair crafting literal, non-stop junk. What’s a real shame, though, is how much better the crafting system becomes when consulting a guide. Knowing which parts not to waste is a godsend, and some recipes are frankly withheld too long in the base game, almost making them worthless. An in-game recipe book would’ve done Zero 4 wonders.
It’s a shame Croire and crafting aren’t as well implemented as they could have been, because they do a good enough job at calling back on the sub-series’ RPG roots. Mega Man Zero 1 has all these awkward, charming RPG flairings. That was all but lost come Z3, but Z4 brings it back. Roughly, mind you, but the first Zero was rough around the edges too. Mega Man Zero 4 ultimately suffers from trying too many new things at once, but at least none of the new mechanics are outright bad.
“One person can’t change the world. Heroes are a thing of the past.”
By this point with the sub-series’ development, IntiCreates was adamant this would be the end of Mega Man Zero no matter what– even if they had to say goodbye to Zero in the process. As mentioned, Zero 4’s story isn’t as traditionally epic as Z3’s, but it makes for a surprisingly compelling finale all the same. In many respects, Zero 4 is even more definitive on a thematic level, taking place in an area with a deep connection to X5– the game that preceded Zero 1. Building off the one thread left hanging at the end of Z3, Dr. Weil returns as the main villain, but he actually ends up taking a back seat to a new antagonist: Craft.
It’s seldom a good thing when a story introduces a brand new villain for the last act, especially when there’s a perfectly good villain in place, but Craft ends up being a much better antagonist than Weil. Granted, that isn’t hard considering Weil doesn’t have much depth even by Mega Man villain standards, but the extremity of his evil made Weil a compelling foe. Craft is almost the complete opposite. There’s nothing inherently evil about him. The only reason Craft fights for Weil is because of his genuine belief that there’s no life to be lived outside of Neo Arcadia– something not too unreasonable to presume in Zero’s outright apocalyptic future.
Craft has seen what Weil has done to Neo Arcadia firsthand, and understands the threat of opposing Weil. The moment refugees escape Neo Arcadia, Weil turns his sights not just on them, but on nature– commanding Craft to lead the Einherjar, a task force dedicated to extreme eco-terrorism (using an artificial sun to burn flora, acid rain to kill plant life.) The fact Craft leads such a group should make him profoundly unlikable, but he’s too good of a foil to hate. Craft’s characterization contrasts fantastically with Zero, both fighting for humanity. Zero for Ciel because he believes in the new world she wants to create, Craft for Weil because he believes there is no new world that can be created. Zero and Craft have similar approaches to heroism, in that it’s not something either consciously considers, but Zero’s relationship with Ciel has given him a stronger code of ethics.
Interestingly, Craft has his own Ciel, a journalist for the Neo Arcadian refugees, Neige. Neige herself is an incredibly important character, representing the unseen victims present across the X and Zero series, while also commenting on humanity’s complete apathy towards two centuries of warfare– to the point where they’re just now leaving their “paradise.” Neige also offers a unique perspective into Neo Arcadian life. It actually WAS a paradise under Copy X, but Weil has twisted the “utopia” into nothing but his playing ground– punishing everyone who opposes his rule. Before this time, however, Craft once came to Neige’s rescue and the two formed a romantic relationship.
While their interactions are few, they stand out as some of the better written in the Zero series, featuring a rather mature, subdued romance between the two characters– something that puts Zero and Ciel’s relationship into better perspective. All Craft wants is to bring Neige back to Neo Arcadia and keep her safe, to salvage any life possible between humans & reploids. But Neige understands that a life under Weil is no life at all. Mega Man Zero goes to great lengths at conveying the dangers of fascism, and Dr. Weil is the purest representation of that. Zero and Craft are both heroes, but when confronted with Weil, one fought back with all his might and the other surrendered to fear.
Even with his fallen hero status, the way characters reference Craft evokes the same feelings as the Resistance members invoking Zero’s “legendary” status in the first two games. Craft isn’t haphazardly thrown into the plot, with care given to ensuring his role as Zero’s final rival is earned. It’s also made clear through ancillary dialogue that Craft is a seasoned combat veteran, which helps set the stage for his two excellent boss fights. Zero 4 has pretty good bosses all around, but Craft is a strong contender for one of the series’ best.
Craft can notably be approached either offensively or defensively. His attacks are lengthy and tend to take up most of the screen, but there’s always an opening to either dodge or outright counter Craft. His homing missiles can be cut down, his mines can be shot with the Buster, and Zero can outright rip the blade out of Craft’s cannon if players are quick enough to use the Z Knuckle during his blade dash. Craft’s desperation move, the appropriately titled End of the World, even covers the entire screen unless players manage to destroy one of his missiles.
As Craft offers a frantically paced boss fight, it makes sense to want to take a step back and try to play it safe, but the battle is at its best when players are consistently going in for the kill. Craft operates quite a lot like Zero in gameplay. He may not be able to combo, but Craft’s blade dash is basically the dash attack, his beam cannon is a charged shot, and his knee bomb has the throwing properties of the Z Knuckle. Like Zero, Craft can also be interrupted during battle, allowing attentive players to prevent Craft from using his strongest attacks. Craft’s Mega Beam Sweep allows him to use his cannon to zoom across the entire screen, a beam of energy doing severe damage to Zero. Players can either try to dodge it, or strike Craft mid-attack, dropping him to the ground.
Just as importantly, Craft can be attacked during most instances where he can also be dodged. Zero can continuously dash underneath Craft’s cannon blast to avoid damage, but he can also use his forward stab EX Skill or a charged shot to do damage at the same time. Craft offers a dynamic fight and manages to serve as just as interesting a gameplay foil for Zero as Omega was in Z3. What really sells the fights, though, is Craft’s hatred of humanity, calling on the human vs reploid racism that vexed Elpizo so deeply in Zero 2.
“I never cared about justice, and I don’t recall calling myself a hero. I have always only fought for those I believe in. I won’t hesitate… if an enemy appears in front of me, I will destroy it!”
Zero 4’s refugees represent Rockman’s unseen and unheard victims, but Craft reminds the audience that humans started this conflict in the first place. Reploids were created in humanity’s image, and were pit against each other under the threat of turning “Maverick–” something that, in retrospect, can just be read as basic free will. In Craft’s eyes, all humans have done for the past century is watch as Reploids kill themselves for a utopia that Copy X affirmed did not want them there in the first place. Craft is so at odds with himself– wanting to do what’s right, wanting to sustain what little life there is, wanting to keep Neige safe– that his “heroic” turning point is taking control of Ragnarok, the orbital cannon Weil has been aiming at the refugees and the Resistance, and directing his ire towards Weil.
With Craft pointing Ragnarok towards Neo Arcadia, indiscriminately endangering all life there in an attempt to kill Weil once and for all, Zero is teleported to Ragnarok to prevent needless mass death. Ragnarok Control Room strikes a great balance of platforming and action, as does the last set of stages as a whole, but what really solidifies it as one of the sub-series’ greatest missions is the ending. After powering through the entire level, Craft fires the cannon the moment players reach the entrance to the boss room. No matter what you do, Zero will always arrive late and Craft will always end up killing a huge chunk of Neo Arcadia’s population in a failed attempt to take out Weil.
It’s shocking, dramatic storytelling, but it carries so much weight coming so close to the end of the series. In many respects, it’s Zero 4’s way of saying there can still be consequences even if the story was meant to end with Zero 3. Craft dies a lonely death in outer space away from Neige and Neo Arcadia has more or less been wiped off the map. But this is all set up for Zero 4’s greatest act of finality: killing Zero. Despite firing Ragnarok at Weil, the man survives and retakes control of the satellite, firing it at Neo Arcadia one more time and prompting Zero to confront the mad doctor once and for all.
Unlike other final bosses in the series, Weil doesn’t offer Zero a one on one battle. Granted, that may be because Craft fills the role a 1-on-1 final boss may have otherwise fulfilled, but Weil does serve as a satisfying end boss for Zero as a whole. Although he lacks the depth of Copy X, Elpizo, and Craft, Weil is Rockman’s first human villain since Dr. Wily. Not just that, Weil is who Wily would be if you stripped away the charm and whimsy of the Classic Mega Man series. A mad scientist hellbent on world domination to the point of building killer robots that actively destroy the environment lends itself better to Zero’s dystopian setting. It only makes sense that people die when the Wilys and Weils of the world are left to run amok.
It’s fitting, then, that the only human Zero fights across the entire sub-series lacks a humanoid form. Both of Weil’s battles see him grotesquely attached to Ragnarok, more Maverick than man. The real highlight of the finale is the timer that ticks down during the final fight. Ragnarok is falling apart, but Weil isn’t dead yet. The impact will kill Zero in two minutes, but he stands his ground and fights for Ciel’s ideals one last time. A crimson Earth beams in the background as Ragnarok makes its final descent, and Zero becomes “Maverick” by killing a human. In the end, Dr. Wily’s greatest creation fought to oppose everything Wily came to stand for. With Zero dead, the door closes on a pivotal chapter of Rockman history– the final tie to the Classic series gone.
Ciel appropriately spends most of the end credits sobbing her eyes out as Ragnarok lights up the night sky behind her. Zero gave his life for Ciel, her ideals, and the world he believed she’d create. Ciel comes to terms with this right before the story wraps up, but Zero 4 leaves audiences not on a note of optimism but of sorrow, lingering on Zero’s shattered helmet before fading to black. It’s a powerful visual, and an important one. Through his relationship with Craft, Zero asserts that he was always a tool built for war. His death is a symbolic letting go of the violence ingrained in the overarching narrative. It’s tragic, but Ciel’s future is a clearer reality without a “God of Destruction” around.
All things considered, Zero’s death makes for a far stronger finale than Zero 3’s. While X’s death and subsequent goodbye has plenty of narrative weight, it isn’t a sad passing. Zero dying abruptly in battle is immediately followed by a scene where Ciel breaks down crying for 3 minutes, before ending on a confirmation of Zero’s death. Killing Zero at all was a bold move on IntiCreates’ part, but the weight that comes with having to see Zero die gives the sub-series an edge that the rest of the franchise lacks. While also ensuring there can’t be a Mega Man Zero 5, of course.
Mega Man Zero 4 may not necessarily be the worst entry in the sub-series depending on what one values out of their games, but it’s certainly the most inconsistent in overall quality. All the new mechanics are nice enough in practice, but they clearly would have benefitted from a sequel that was never going to come. The level design is par for the course, as is the boss design for the most part, but steps back in combo potential and the removal of staple weapons in favor of the Z Knuckle feel like misaligned attempts at experimentation. Very appreciable experimentation, but lacking in the polish Z2 and Z3 had.
Zero’s legend was something IntiCreates redefined over the course of the Zero sub-series. Zero was already one of the more compelling characters in the franchise when he debuted in 1993’s Mega Man X, but Zero made him into more than X’s deuteragonist. At the same time, Zero redefined what it meant to be a hero. Where X was a definable hero, Zero simply fought for what he believed was right– which Zero affirms through Copy X & Zero’s relationship is the truer heroism. Zero had died before in the X series, but IntiCreates end Zero 4 on such a note of finality that any attempt at reviving the character would result in sullying his legacy. Although IntiCreates would continue to work on the franchise for two more games, Mega Man Zero 4 brings Zero’s story to a touching, beautiful close. Again.